Wednesday, February 27, 2019

OH: Lorain Schools In State Of Emergency

The state takeover of Lorain City Schools continues to spiral out of control (if you are joining us for this ongoing mess, you can start the story here).

Here's what has happened in the last couple of days.

After announcing last Thursday that teachers at Lorain High School would have to reapply for their jobs, CEO David Hardy went on the television box to do an interview to try to-- well, it's not clear what he was trying to do. The video has a glitch in the middle, but there are a couple of points worth noting:

The interviewer explains the state-appointed job as a "dictator," and Hardy doesn't love the word, but he doesn't have a better one. I like "tsar," but that didn't come up.

The interviewer asks some fine questions, like whether the selection process is just a way to get rid of all the high-cost teachers. Hardy says, kind of, that it's not.  The interviewer also brings up the 98% no confidence vote from the staff and asks, in effect, doesn't this indicate you have some problems between leadership and your people, to which Hardy replies, "I don't give a shit." Okay, I'm paraphrasing; the reformspeak version he uses is that he's here to just focus on the students and that's what he's going to focus on. This is not a great way to run a-- well, anything.

Hardy does finally answer the question of whether people can lose their jobs over this-- the answer is "yes." And he tries to expand the criteria beyond the original "prove that you'll be supportive of my vision for the district." But mostly he waffles and gives answers that aren't actually answers to the question that was asked.

But none of that actually matters because--

Tuesday, Hardy announced that the whole "reapply for your job thing" was off the table.

I left our conversation Friday deeply moved by your statements. Your statements expressed a number of emotions, valid points, and perspectives. I was encouraged by the dialogue. I have also been in consultation with our State Superintendent, Paolo DeMaria. I want to reconsider how best to achieve the excellence that I know is possible at Lorain High School. For that reason, I will suspend the selection process previously announced. I created a very different understanding of what I was intending to accomplish, and I apologize for that. Suspending the process will allow us to collectively and collaboratively identify and implement the changes necessary to ensure our scholars succeed.

He also allows that he expected a round of absence in response. Then he sort of loses control of the whole language thing:

I will be the first to tell you that I take decisions like this seriously, but I take your words equally as serious. Our scholars deserve the best from all of us, something that can only happen with your voices at the table. My ask of you is that we continue our conversation and come together around solutions to create the Lorain High we all want. One that is full of love and high expectations for scholars, teachers, staff, and leaders alike; one that is focused on our kids and the well being of all; one that raises our collective belief in what is possible; one that is led by a solution-orientation that suspends disbelief; one that allocates our energy on positivity ; one that leads us to a level of collaboration that will bring us to what is truly possible for all of our scholars.

If one things is clear, it's that Hardy loves sweeping visionary-ish prose more than he loves actual specifics.

Was this a win? Did he blink? Did somebody in Columbus tell him to get his house in order? Board President Mark Ballard has a theory:

“The big story is the big boys down in Columbus called him and said, ‘You’ve got to fix this now,’” he said. “They know he’s out of control, as we do. Now he apologizes and said he changed his mind.”

Maybe, but I find the change of course pretty disturbing, because it indicates just how little thought went into the original proposal.

Look, if someone is going to use the nuclear option in any situation, I actually want it to be a little difficult to talk him out of it, because that at least means I'm dealing with someone who's thought long and hard about what he's doing. If he can change his mind quickly and easily, that means he pulled that nuke out on a thoughtless whim, and that's scary. Either Hardy didn't understand the enormity of his decision to make everyone at the high school reapply, or he just didn't care, and neither one is very comforting going forward. Remember, ten days before he dropped the bomb, he assured the union everyone's jobs were secure. My initial reaction was that ten days prior he just plain lied, but now it seems possible that he really didn't know what he was going to do. A guy who can make decisions this large with such little refection doesn't belong in charge of a lemonade stand, let alone an entire school district. It's also possible that big boys in Columbus did call him on the carpet, which means this is not his idea and everybody had better watch their backs-- a former Hardy co-worker has told me that he can be "as vindictive af." If these folks have made him look bad in front of his bosses, he will be stewing. (There is one other even worse possibility-- that every step of this has been a plan to kick the teachers in their collective guts to say, "Do I have your attention now?" But that would mean Hardy is a sociopath of frightening proportions, so let's assume that's not it.)

However, the community was already primed for a meeting last evening, and so the Academic Distress Commission (well, part of it) and the school board and a few other dignitaries and lawyers and a whole lot of community members gathered in the "media center" (that's "library" for you older folks) to share alarm over a variety of issues. Then they declared a state of emergency for the Lorain City Schools. After that, a whole lot of folks stepped up to the mic to express concerns while other folks chimed in on Facebook Live (you can find the video at the bottom of this story.)

What does this formal resolution proclaiming a state of emergency actually do? It's a good question; it would seem that what the folks want most immediately is to have their school system back, and under HB 70 that's not going to happen. It's also fair to note that, as several on-line commenters have pointed out, the district wasn't exactly going great guns under previous management. However, there's no sign that a state takeover is working, at all.

You can say that the principle of state takeover is sound, and that the problem is that the state made a Very Bad Hire in David Hardy. I don't think that's true. Yes, Hardy is really bad at this job. But I'm trying to imagine what someone who was both good at it and willing to take it would look like, and I don't think it can be done. Ohio has created a terrible job that can't be done-- come into a community from outside, strip people of their representative democracy, take over one of their most beloved and valued community assets, make them like it, and operate a large multi-faceted complicated organization that runs on a myriad of relationships that the state kicked in the face just by sending you here. This is already an impossible job, and when it's created by a reform-minded state like Ohio, the assumption is that the tsar should be an outsider who lacks the training and experience to have any idea how to do it. David Hardy is a terrible choice for this job-- but he's exactly what the people who created this job had in mind.

Meanwhile, there are more developments to watch.

The state is sending another head for the academic distress commission (the mostly-state-appointed group that now theoretically is responsible for the school system). That guy is Dr. Randall Sampson, and he, too, is steeped in reformy baloney. He spent one year in the classroom, a few years in administration, and a whole lotta years in consulting and running a school turnaround business that he started. And he's a big fan of some Common Core standards based data-driven value-added stuff. If Lorain is hoping the ADC will now be run by someone who will rein in Hardy--well, I would not bet the farm or any of the dirt on it.

Annnnd then there's this. I'll do a capture of part of the page because presumably it will update with time, but what we're looking at is nine want ads for teachers for Teach for America in Lorain, most with an application deadline of March 1st.

Stay tuned.


  1. Why did it take him 18 months to listen to the teachers? He was so moved he changed his mind is a smoke screen. If he really wanted teacher input he would have started on the 1st day.

  2. I'm an 18 year veteran teacher. Our nation is literally turning schools into test score sweat shops with teachers forced into being sweat shop bosses. The physical, mental and emotional health of our children simply doesn't matter to those in power. Bottom line is test scores. It's inhuman.

  3. I'm guessing the U-Turn on the reappling for your job bit was that someone worried it would create a labor dispute and if it turned into a walkout the teachers could bring the whole thing down.